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Mike Jarvis’ 105-pound spoonbill

April 07, 2010

Illinois hunting and fishing

Big Fish Info

Species: Spoonbill

Size: 105 pounds

Date: March, 2010

County: St. Clair

NEW ATHENS, Ill. (AP) - Mike Jarvis thought he had hooked a shark. Turns out, the creature on the end of his line was just as bizarre.

Fishing for bass in Levee Lake at Peabody River King State Fish and Wildlife Area near New Athens last week with a friend, Jarvis accidentally snagged a spoonbill that amazed everybody with its size, weight and girth - not to mention its place of residence for the past 15 years.

The spoonbill, also known as a paddlefish, tipped the scales at 105 pounds. The prehistoric-looking fish with the elongated snout measured 68 inches long and had a girth of 44 inches.

In other words, Jarvis hooked the size equivalent of a seventh-grader.

“I was amazed,” said the 40-year-old Freeburg angler. “I thought it was either a big catfish or a big carp. Then when we seen it in the water, both of us at the same time said ‘Oh my God, it’s a shark!’ We didn’t know what the heck it was. All we seen was the big tailfin and the big dorsal fin.

“I’ve seen spoonbill before, but we didn’t see the spoon. All we seen was the back end of it. We didn’t know what the heck it was.”

Spoonbill are commonly found in slow-flowing waters of the Mississippi River, Missouri River and the Ohio River. Fred Cronin, a local fisheries biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said spoonbill also inhabit the Kaskaskia River.

Cronin theorizes the spoonbill ended up in Levee Lake, which is located several hundred feet from the Kaskaskia, when the river flooded in 1993 or 1995.

“It didn’t shock me because the Kaskaskia can and did flood into those lakes,” Cronin said. “And it is typical for bill fish to get huge once they get locked into a lake like that. I wasn’t shocked, but it is pretty unusual.”

Illinois does not keep records for spoonbill, and Jarvis’ catch wouldn’t have been eligible, anyway, because it was foul-hooked, or snagged. The spoonbill is one of the largest freshwater fish in North America and commonly reaches 5 feet long and weighs more than 60 pounds.

The largest American paddlefish on record was 144 pounds, caught by Ralph Westerman in the Kansas River in 2004. The Missouri record is 139 pounds, 4 ounces, caught by George W. Russell in Table Rock Lake in 2002.

What made Jarvis’ catch so unusual, Cronin said, was that it was caught on a crankbait.

“Spoonbill are so very rarely caught because they’re filter feeders,” Cronin said. “They feed by filtering out zooplankton from the water. They don’t normally go after bait.”

Jarvis and his buddy were fishing a steep bank in 18 feet of water when his Wiggle Wart crankbait hooked the spoonbill about 5 inches behind its mouth.
“I don’t know if it just slapped at it or what,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis was using 2-year-old 10-pound test line, which amazingly didn’t break throughout the 40 minutes it took to land the fish.

“I’m surprised it held up,” Jarvis said. “That line made a believer out of me. That line, I’ve been feeling it for a week and it’s just kinked and scrapped. How that fish didn’t break my line is unbelievable.”

Jarvis said the spoonbill went into a cove under a submerged tree, turned around and went over the same tree as it exited the cove. He lost sight of the fish before his buddy saw it break the water’s surface behind the boat.

At that point, Jarvis cut the line and started pulling in the fish by hand. Eventually, the spoonbill exited a deep hole and came to rest on a flat. Apparently fatigued, the fish came to the surface, where Jarvis and his partner tied it to the side of the boat and headed for shore.

It took Jarvis and two of his buddies to lift the spoonbill on the back of his truck. They took it to Lehr’s Meat Market in New Athens to have it weighed on a certified scale, then stopped off at the DNR office at Baldwin Lake.

“Everybody who seen it was amazed,” Jarvis said. “They couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t believe it. It’s a prehistoric fish. They’re like sturgeon - they’ve been around forever.”

Because one of its gills was ripped, the fish bled to death. Jarvis was able to harvest the meat, and it should make quite a fish fry. He filled nine 1-gallon freezer bags full of fillets.

Jarvis said he’s certain there are more spoonbill in Levee Lake, which is one of about 20 lakes in Peabody River King State Fish and Wildlife Area.

“That thing was loaded with eggs,” Jarvis said. “I’ll bet it had over 25 pounds of eggs in it. That should tell you that more of them are in there.”

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